The year 1869 was exceptionally wet in southern Texas. You could almost ride by boat across the prairies. It was also a fine year for unbranded stray calves, called mavericks. That fall, Jim Jones went with five other men on a maverick hunt. They took along a small herd of gentle cattle and were able to “ease” many mavericks into the herd without having to rope them. They held what they caught, intending to brand them at the end of the work. After hunting for a week or ten days, Jones and his companions got back to his home on the San Miguel river late one drizzly evening with 260 mavericks, and shut them in the muddy pens.
As they sat down in the warm kitchen to supper, the rain began to pour. After supper they played poker.
Mrs. Jones warned them that the water might be rising in the pens. There was no move on the part of the gamblers. The woman’s eagerness to break the game up, and thus prevent her husband’s losing his share of the property, was plain. “The cattle are all in danger of being drowned,” she went on.
The men continued playing. An hour passed and the rain was still falling in sheets. Again Mrs. Jones went to the gamblers. “Don’t you hear those cattle balling?” she said, her voice high. “They are in distress. You had better stop and see about them. Those pens are on low ground.”
“The water will never get up into those pens, “ Jim Jones answered. “I built them above the high-water mark.”
More time passed. Then suddenly Mrs. Jones exclaimed, “Look, the water is coming in.”
The men looked outside to see a vast expanse of raging waters. The pens were made of mesquite logs, with the gates barred with poles. Flashes of lighting revealed the cattle moaning and balling, packed in the mill and circling like a whirlpool. Doubtless some of the cattle were already down and being trampled to death. The men unsuccessfully tried to break the mill.
They didn’t want to lose all those mavericks, but they had no choice. The men quickly saddled horses, pulled down the bars, and prepared to hold them when the mavericks should bolt for freedom. The water had risen perceptively but the animals wouldn’t go out the open gateway. The horsemen rode against the mass but couldn’t budge it. The flooded creek was rising fast. Jones and his friends now became alarmed for the household. They found Mrs. Jones and her children on the table, water two feet deep on the floor. They were carried to high land. By daylight, the water had taken the roof off the house.
When the San Miguel River subsided, only a few drowned mavericks remained. The rest had been washed away. The men never finished their game of poker.
Source: The Longhorns
Excerpt from J. Frank Dobie’s The Longhorns, © University of Texas Press